Today at Berkeley Lab

Veterans Day at Berkeley Lab: For Those Who Served

— By Sabin Russell

On Monday the nation will observe Veterans Day, the one day set aside each year to honor and remember all those who have protected our country through service in the armed forces. Of the 4,222 Berkeley Lab employees, 82 are veterans, according to Human Resources analyst Lady Idos. Below, three Berkeley Lab vets share their stories with TABL:

To Berkeley Lab’s Thomas Reese Jr., Veterans Day has always been about family. The son of a career Army master sergeant decorated for service in Vietnam, Reese grew up around military bases and spent eight years himself in the Air Force. His younger brother Dan served 10 years in the Army; his youngest brother Mark was a 23-year career radar electronics technician (submarines) in the Navy; and his daughter Kori is now in her 11th year in the Navy, deployed in the Persian Gulf aboard the carrier USS John C. Stennis.

“I was always close to my Dad,” says Reese. “I am proud of his 21 years in the Army and that so many of us have followed him. All together, we have 73 years in the service.”

In 1979, after he mustered out of the Air Force as a sergeant first class, Reese took that service ethic directly to Berkeley Lab. He brought with him the skills he’d learned as a refrigeration/AC mechanic and eventually gained expertise in plumbing and fire protection systems as well. He worked his way up the ranks, and retired as Plumbing Shop foreman in 2005.

But Reese, who is also a bass-player with the Pete Montoya Band, says he missed the professional challenges and long-term friendships acquired after nearly 30 years of employment. He returned to the Lab through a consulting agency in 2007, and revoked his retirement a year later. With that, he moved back permanently to the Bay Area from Pennsylvania and formally rejoined the Berkeley Lab staff. Today he is the go-to guy whenever anyone even thinks about putting a shovel into the ground. He’s there whenever a pipe has been broken and he responds to any underground utility failure. As a construction manager and Field Utilities Coordinator, he is responsible for protecting the underground gas, compressed air, water, and sewer lines from accidental breaks by construction crews. He knows every nook and cranny of the 200-acre hillside campus. “I’ve been here so long, I have worked just about everywhere,’’ Reese says.

At his home in Pittsburg, Reese keeps a picture taken as General Curtis Chapman pinned a Bronze Star on his father in October 1967 at Long Binh, Vietnam. He won this field citation for directing urgent and extensive construction operations during several months of monsoon rains in a hostile environment. Thomas Reese Sr. passed away in 2009. “When I think about what Veterans Day means,” says the younger Reese, “I think about him. He is Veterans Day to me.”

George Rosas is another well-known Berkeley Lab musician and a proud veteran of the Army, where he spent 23 years as an infantryman, military policeman, and instructor. He was deployed for six months during Desert Storm, the first Persian Gulf War. Rosas retired from the Army as a sergeant first class. Today he is a custodial supervisor at Berkeley Lab, where he has worked for nearly 15 years. “I ended up here because I know how to deal with schedules, people, and equipment,” he says. “I learned how to do that in the Army.”

Rosas was living in Antioch while he finished up his Army career as an instructor, and he remained there after he found work at Berkeley Lab. “I have this bad habit: I like to pay my mortgage and put food on the table,’’ he says. He’s the proud father of four children and 14 grandchildren, all living in Arizona, where he grew up as well.

Music has always been an important part of his life, too. Rosas in fact has been a professional musician for more than 40 years, playing bass, guitar, saxophone, and trumpet. He played trumpet in the Army, and while stationed in Europe he was in one of only two bands in Germany that played Latino music. He’s partial to Tex-Mex and mariachi music, and has played with Berkeley Lab’s own homegrown bands. In a moving remembrance on the first anniversary of the 911 terrorist attacks, Rosas played Taps from the balcony of Building 50 at Berkeley Lab, his notes echoing throughout the silent hills. Veterans Day means a great deal to him. “It is a day,” he says, “to honor all those who swore an oath, and took it seriously, to defend this country and its constitution against all enemies.”

Jeanne Gerstle enlisted in the Army Reserves in 1986, beginning a career of 14 years in service to her country. Today she works as site-license coordinator for Berkeley Lab’s IT Division. If a Lab employee needs to acquire software, he or she will likely arrange for it through Gerstle. At the Lab she has put to good use the skills she learned in the Army, where she held a number of assignments that required training in administration, budgeting, and communications. As the Personnel Administration Sergeant at the 351st Civil Affairs Command, in Mountain View, California, she participated in an exercise, staged at Fort Ord, to mobilize troops in preparation for deployment in Bosnia. Among those that Sgt. 1st Class Gerstle helped to mobilize for Bosnia was her former commander from advanced training at Fort Belvoir in Virginia, where she was just a private first class. She realized her career had come full circle.

From Basic Training in South Carolina forward, she also marched with rucksacks, swam with 50 pounds of gear, ran long distances with her company, and kept up her qualifications to handle an M-16 rifle. During the Loma Prieta Earthquake in 1989, she happened to be working at San Francisco’s Presidio Army base. Her commute over Oakland’s Cypress Structure was quick that afternoon, because the Giants and A’s were playing in the World Series and the roads were empty. Had the traffic patterns been normal, she very likely would have been trapped when it collapsed. Instead, she assisted the Army’s response to the quake, bringing help to the hard-hit Marina district adjacent to the Presidio.

One of her fondest memories from her years in the service was when she and some fellow soldiers from Fort Belvoir watched a changing of the guard ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. “We were in civilian attire, but we stood at attention and looked over the vast number of graves, and took in the historical vibe at the Cemetery,” she recalls. “Freedom, as they say, is not free. It is not.” Veterans Day brings out the ceremonial aspect of life in the military, and brings back memories of the days she would march carrying the guidon, the flag bearing the colors and insignia of her unit.

As a member of the Reserves, she raised her daughter, Kristina, and now has two grandchildren, Aysia and Charles, whose pictures adorn her Berkeley Lab office. She parlayed her experience into a job in radiation protection, and later in the Creative Services Office, before moving over to IT. She is grateful for the soldiers who serve today and for the experience she gained while in the Army. It all might not have happened, except by chance: “I lost a bet with my brother,” she recalls. “The deal was, if I lost, I had to talk to an Army recruiter…That recruiter really did his job.”